Michel Platini, the former UEFA president who was banned from football four years ago, was detained in Paris on Tuesday. The former France and Juventus No. 10 was questioned as part of an investigation into alleged corruption surrounding Qatar’s 2022 World Cup bid. Qatar won the hosting rights with Platini a big cheerleader for the bid.
First reported by Mediapart and later confirmed by other sources, Platini was arrested Tuesday morning. Under French law, he can be held for questioning for up to 48 hours.
Platini has denied any wrongdoing, as one would expect. His PR team put out the following statement: “Michel Platini expresses himself serenely and precisely, answering all the questions, including those on the conditions for the awarding of Euro 2016, and has provided useful explanations.”
“Useful explanations” sounds like an odd way to phrase “excuses,” though maybe there’s something lost in translation there. The three-time Ballon d’Or winner’s lawyers said he “has nothing to feel guilty about and maintained that he is totally uninvolved with those events that are beyond him.”
Platini was banned from football in 2015 by the FIFA ethics committee after discovery of a $2 million “disloyal payment” from then-FIFA boss Sepp Blatter, who was also banned from football. Platini later successfully appealed to have his ban reduced from eight to four years, meaning he can return to working in the sport in October.
With Platini arrested Tuesday, a wrench could be thrown into a possible return as investigations continue into Qatar’s World Cup bid. Qatar won the hosting rights over the likes of the U.S., Australia, South Korea and Japan, though FIFA has made it difficult to believe the vote was done ethically. Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has also been questioned in this case, which is being conducted by French investigators from the country’s serious financial crime unit.
Platini has been questioned in the past — most recently in 2015 — over his role in helping award Qatar the 2022 World Cup. As a member of the executive committee, he had a direct vote in the bid process. This is the first time he’s been detained against his will. Also on Tuesday, former general secretary of the Elysee Palace under French president Nicolas Sarkozy, Claude Gueant, was questioned but not arrested. Former sports advisor to Sarkozy, Sophie Dion, was arrested.
Of particularly interest to investigators, according to ESPN, is a meeting Platini had with Mohamed Bin Hammam, a former Asian Football Confederation president who has since been banned from football for life for corruption charges. Platini also had lunch with Sarkozy, Gueant, Dion, Bin Hammam and the then-Qatari prime minister (now Emir) Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.
The investigation is exploring the possibility that bilateral trade deals between France and Qatar — and the later Qatari takeover of PSG — were leverage to get France’s support for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup. However, in 2018, Platini was cleared of any wrongdoing surrounding the 2022 World Cup process by a judge in Switzerland. FIFA’s own investigation in 2014 also cleared Qatar of wrongdoing, but it’s not like FIFA has made itself a credible source.
Platini has never expressed any remorse over the Qatar World Cup, though he did admit to trickery over the 1998 France World Cup draw last year.
Platini arrested may bring some hope to those who would love to see corruption further cleaned up in FIFA, but it’s not likely to bring any broad changes. It’s almost impossible to see FIFA taking the 2022 World Cup away from Qatar, despite all the evidence mounting against the Arabian country hosting, from possible corruption to win the bidding rights to human-rights violations preparing for the tournament. Considering how FIFA ignored Russia’s human-rights violations, it’s pretty clear FIFA, a supposed non-profit, just cares about making money.
But at least one more major FIFA official has to spend at least some time locked up.